Russia Boosts Mediterranean Force as U.S. Mulls Syria Strike

Russia is sending three more ships to the eastern Mediterranean to bolster its fleet there as a U.S. Senate panel will consider President Barack Obama’s request for authority to conduct a military strike on Syria.

Russia is sending two destroyers, including the Nastoichivy, the flagship of the Baltic Fleet, and the Moskva missile cruiser to the region, Interfax reported today, citing an unidentified Navy official. That follows last week’s dispatch of a reconnaissance ship to the eastern Mediterranean, four days after the deployment of an anti-submarine ship and a missile cruiser to the area, which were reported by Interfax. Syria hosts Russia’s only military facility outside the former Soviet Union, at the port of Tartus.

The buildup is raising the stakes as the U.S. prepares for possible action against Syria, sending warships and submarines to the east Mediterranean armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote today on a resolution that supports the use of force by the U.S. military.

“Russia is sending a strong signal that the conflict surrounding Syria touches on its interests, to ensure that international law is upheld and there is no bypassing the UN Security Council,” Ivan Safranchuk, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s Institute of Contemporary International Studies in Moscow, said by phone.

Temporary Boost

Russia is temporarily bolstering its naval presence in the region to improve its surveillance capability over U.S. ships and submarines deployed in the area and to ensure security for Russian citizens residing in Syria, according to a Russian official who asked not to be named, citing government policy.

President Vladimir Putin said today that congressional approval would “legitimize aggression,” adding that only the United Nations Security Council can endorse the strikes. Putin, whose country wields a veto as a permanent member of the Security Council, said he needs proof that the Syrian government used chemical weapons to support a U.S.-led strike.

Russia, which has embarked this decade on the largest rearmament program since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, is projecting naval power a day after its early-warning radar station detected what it misidentified as a launch of two ballistic missiles in the Mediterranean. Israel later said it carried out a joint missile test with the U.S.

China, Mediterranean

Russia in January held its biggest naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean in more than two decades, followed by its largest-ever naval exercises with China in the Sea of Japan in July. In March, Putin ordered unplanned exercises in the Black Sea involving 36 warships and almost 7,000 personnel.

Russia maintains a naval resupply facility at the Syrian port of Tartus.

A missile cruiser, the Moskva, is bound for the eastern Mediterranean after canceling its mission to a port in Cape Verde. It will arrive by Sept. 17 to assume leadership of a task force in the region, Interfax reported today, citing a Navy official in St. Petersburg. The Baltic and Black Sea fleets are each sending a destroyer, the news service said.

“Putin has clearly outlined his country’s position in regards to Syria,” Matthew Clements, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in London, said in e-mailed comments. “This includes a firm warning to the United States and its allies that military action against Syria without support from the UN Security Council would be an ‘aggression.’”

Russian Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo couldn’t be reached when Bloomberg called seeking comment.

Military Supplies

Russia will continue providing military supplies under contracts to the Syrian government, which it recognizes as the legitimate authority in the country, Putin said in an interview with the Associated Press and Russian state television broadcaster Channel One, a transcript of which was posted on the Kremlin website today.

While supplies of the advanced S-300 missile system have been halted, deliveries may resume if actions are taken against Syria violating international law, he said.

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